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Renaissance Woman

The Life of Vittoria Colonna

Ramie Targoff

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Renaissance Woman Download image

ISBN10: 0374538220
ISBN13: 9780374538224

Trade Paperback

360 Pages



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Ramie Targoff’s Renaissance Woman tells of the most remarkable woman of the Italian Renaissance: Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa of Pescara. Vittoria has long been celebrated by scholars of Michelangelo as the artist’s best friend—the two of them exchanged beautiful letters, poems, and works of art that bear witness to their intimacy—but she also had close ties to Charles V, Pope Clement VII and Pope Paul III, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione, Pietro Aretino, Queen Marguerite de Navarre, Reginald Pole, and Isabella d’Este, among others. Vittoria was the scion of an immensely powerful family in Rome during that city’s most explosively creative era. Art and literature flourished, but political and religious life were under terrific strain. Personally involved with nearly every major development of this period—through both her marriage and her own talents—Vittoria was not only a critical political actor and negotiator but also the first woman to publish a book of poems in Italy, an event that launched a revolution for Italian women’s writing. Vittoria was, in short, at the very heart of what we celebrate when we think about sixteenth-century Italy; through her story the Renaissance comes to life anew.


Praise for Renaissance Woman

"Vittoria Colonna’s name has always been there, hovering in the wings, but with Ramie Targoff’s vibrant, timely study, Renaissance Woman, she comes into the spotlight . . . [In] Targoff’s hands the bits of [Colonna's] puzzle fit together beautifully. Here is a woman capable of deep, almost obsessional feeling, with an equal capacity to put those feelings into poetry . . . Vittoria Colonna has always deserved to be better known. Ramie Targoff’s fine book will surely make that happen."—Sarah Dunant, New York Times Book Review

"Ms. Targoff is adept at keeping the reader informed of the complex geopolitical machinations taking place in Colonna’s life, among them the conflict between Clement VII and Charles V, which pits her family’s loyalties against her husband’s, and the schism in the church wrought by Lutheranism. All of this is introduced not as dry context but as high drama. Working closely with Colonna’s letters and poems, Ms. Targoff gives her the vividness of a fictional protagonist."—Cammy Brothers, The Wall Street Journal

“Targoff's biography shows how Colonna’s commitment to the Catholic Church intersected with her participation in cultural and political transformation.”Booklist

"Targoff (Common Prayer), professor of English and cochair of Italian studies at Brandeis University, paints Vittoria Colonna (1492–1547) as an embodiment of the Italian Renaissance in this enjoyable narrative, noting Colonna’s intense religiosity and role as the first published female Italian poet . . . Targoff provides several helpful translations of Colonna’s poems, accompanied by clear explications of her struggles with mourning and spirituality, which her letters also documented."Publisher's Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt



IN NOVEMBER 1525, a messenger from Milan bearing important news crossed the Bay of Naples. He was heading for a castle on the island of Ischia occupied by members of the d’Avalos family, one of the leading...

About the author

Ramie Targoff

Ramie Targoff is a professor of English, the cochair of Italian studies, and the Jehuda Reinharz Director of the Mandel Center for the Humanities at Brandeis University. She is the author of Common Prayer: The Language of Public Devotion; John Donne, Body and Soul; and Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England. She lives with her husband and son in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Richard Howard

Ramie Targoff

Official Links

Brandeis University Faculty Profile